Hilton Clarke has opted to leave the Bahati Foundation Cycling Team for a more secure position with UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis starting on June 10. The Australian sprinter took advantage of the UCI's mid-season transfer rules to make the move after he received letter from the Bahati team advising all riders to look for a new contract.
"On May 27 the entire team was sent a letter saying that sponsor OUCH had left and that the team had no money or sponsors left and they advised all riders to go and get other teams," Clarke told Cyclingnews. "From that, coming up on June 10 is my starting date to race with UnitedHealthcare, which I am really excited about."
"We were advised we were not getting paid anymore and that all the funding was gone," he added. "As soon as I got that email I looked around to see if there were other teams that were interested in me and right away UnitedHealthcare was interested. They were the team that I wanted to go to first and foremost because I considered them and Fly V Australia the two best teams in country. So, I am excited to go to one of the top teams in the country."
Clarke’s team change comes just in time to meet the rules which allow riders to switch UCI teams between June 1 and June 25.
The Bahati Foundation’s title sponsor OUCH Medical Center recently pulled its funding from the team after rider Floyd Landis admitted to doping in the past. He also alleged that several other professional riders including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs during his time with US Postal.
Since OUCH Medical Center was the primary financial backer, the team does not have the necessary funds to pay its riders their agreed upon salaries. "Right now we don’t have any money to pay anybody," said Nathan O’Neill, a rider on the Bahati Foundation team. "According to the rules riders had 15 days from their last pay day, which was May 31, before they can file against not getting paid."
The team has since change management and is working toward keeping the team afloat for the remainder of the season.
"Everyone realizes the implications of doing such a thing," he added. "All the riders believe in the future of this program. In order to keep the license alive and everyone going during the transfer of management, everyone has pledged their support and are sticking by us. We are confident we can find a new title sponsor."
According to O’Neill the riders who have agreed to stay on board include co-owner Rashaan Bahati, Cesar Grajales, Jason Donald, Corey Collier, Matt Rice, Alex Hagman, Evan Hyde, Bobby Lea, Phil Mann, Lanell Rockmore, Ryan Baumann, Ian Burnett and Peter Carey.
"Everybody is staying except for Hilton Clarke right now," O’Neill said. "He had to do what he thought was best for him and we do not fault him for that. Had I been put in the same position, I don’t know what I would have done. No one holds any bad feelings against him for doing that."
"OUCH was an emergency stop gap, we had money, we ran out, OUCH stepped in for one month, they stepped out," he added. "Our title sponsor is gone so we are working feverishly to get a new one. We are working on a very short term basis right now."
As for Clarke, he will first wear the UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis jersey at the Air Force Cycling Classic’s Clarendon Cup and Crystal City Cup held on June 12 and 13 in Arlington, Virginia followed by the Nature Valley Grand Prix held from June 16-20 in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota.
"This is a challenge that I have never gone through dealing with before," Clarke said. "Yes, I am excited to ride with UnitedHealthcare but until I can finally get there, get on their bike and put their clothes on, is when it will start to sink in. Right now, the transfer process is not a simple as putting the jersey on. Once I get to ride again I will feel much more excited."
When asked if he will be back to winning bike races again at the Air Force Classic, Clarke said, "I’m not planning on coming second there. I’m keen on giving an impact right away for the new team."